Thursday, May 06, 2010
Defining The Problem
I have been glomming that old HBO mini-series FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON. Maybe it was because I was born in 1969 or that my name "Cynthia" means "moon goddess" (yes, it does, and no, I can't tell anyone that with a straight face.) Or maybe it's that I like how the Nerds won for a change.
Regardless, I am fascinated with how America went from so-far-behind to putting a man on the moon in a decade.
In one episode, a bunch of engineers and scientists gather in a room, and the Big Cheese stands with his pocket pen protector and his overhead projector. He presents a list of problems that have to be conquered before man could land on the moon. Just little things, like, yanno, getting there. And landing. And then getting back.
That impressed me. He'd been able to define the problem, which to me is essential to getting any goal accomplished.
That's how I'd like to think I tackle problems, breaking them down into bite-sized chunks of the elephant that is to be eaten. The Sister and The Husband disagree and tell me that I just say, "No, that won't work." A lot.
But if I can define what has to happen and figure out why it's currently not happening, then my brain will eventually suss out the solution.
My problem-solving approach is not as pretty and elegantly simple as the Big Cheese Engineer/Scientist, but it's based on the same idea.
How does this apply to writing? It's how I figure out things like why characters aren't behaving, or setting isn't working, or why I have a plot-hole the size of Manhattan. It's how I figured out the business of getting published to begin with.
I didn't actually write it down beforehand, but this was kind of my approach:
Goal: To Publish A Book
1) Write a book.
2) Get some non-family member to read it and see if it stinks.
3) If it stinks, either fix it or write another one that doesn't stink.
4) Find out how to sell a book.
5) Sell book.
Somewhere in between step 2 and step 5, I discovered that a) I stunk at writing mysteries and b) if I wanted to sell a mystery, I'd have to sell it to an agent who'd have to sell it to a publisher.
Agents terrified me. (I know, what a silly goose I was, to get all terrified of such soft, cuddly critters, but back then I was inhaling every blog post that Miss Snark could put out, and I had the idea that agents wore stiletto heels and drank a bathtub full of gin every day.)
That could have stopped me in my tracks, but no. I researched until I found a work-around solution: Harlequin, which, for the most part, doesn't require agents.
The decision relieved so much of the fear and stress I had about querying agents that I found I could not only finish the book, and then a second one (because, man, the first one stank so bad it needed a full body scrubdown) ... but I could also get the nerve to query agents.
It also led me to a great publisher, which in turn led me to great author friends. I'd say I hit the jackpot. All because I defined the problem. Oh, and had a little bit of luck along the way, too.